Just last week I was BMW’s plus-one to their home base in Munich, where the German carmaker took me on intimate dates to the IAA show (more to come on that), their heritage collection (more on that coming, too), and let me drive the new electric i4 and iX (yes, more on those as well.) Of course, in between all that, I was where I always am most at home, on the streets. Because the streets are full of cars, and cars are what I seek — to share with you. So hang on.
These cars are mostly from inside Munich, but a few of the best ones are outside the city, still in Bavaria, somewhere closer to the Alps. I’m not exactly sure, since I rarely know where I am. And while most of the area around Munich had a carscape composed of modern, often up-market cars, rational and well-kept but not necessarily all that interesting, there were some gems to be found.
So that’s what I’m going to show you here, starting with what may be my favorite:
Look at that little monster! This is an NSU 1200 TT, maybe a TTS, likely from 1967, but I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that this little caged brute is probably a hell of a lot of fun on a track. These were rear-engined, with a transverse inline-four with two carbs—this particular one looks like it’s got even more going on, with those four intake trumpets peeking out:
It’s kind of like a smaller, crazier Corvair, which clearly influenced its design. Wildly uncommon in America. This was a treat.
NSU was best known for building small, rear-engined economy cars like the NSU Prinz, and then later became a pioneer of Wankel rotary engines, with the NSU Spider being the first rotary production car, and then the incredibly forward-thinking NSU Ro80.
NSU was bought by VW in 1969 and absorbed, leaving no trace save, along with VW’s purchase of Auto-Union, the new front engine/liquid cooled VW DNA.
Right next to where I saw this beast, I saw the associated beauty:
This looks like a 1968 Ferrari 330 GTC — said to be the first Ferrari where you could actually hear the radio because of its greater refinement over previous Ferraris, which seems to have included some real soundproofing. It’s a stunning-looking Pininfarina-designed grand touring car, with a big V12 under that long hood.
Damn, it might even look better from the back!
At the other end of the spectrum of Italian cars, I saw this fun-looking little Fiat 500.
Just in case something like the Fiat 500 is just too, you know, gargantuan for you, Bavaria has you covered: you could instead choose something also pretty sporty (note the stripes) but without all that Fiat 500 bulk: a Ligier sans-permis car!
These fit under Europe’s quadracycle law, and are like low-speed neighborhood vehicles here in the U.S. You don’t need a license for these (that’s what sans-permis means); the speed is limited to, as the sticker shows, 45 kph; and they’re usually tiny diesels. I think they’re cool.
Okay, let’s head back into Munich, starting with this shiny ex-pat:
A Mustang! But with those German amber rear side markers and the clear-look taillights that hide amber rear indicators! I’m pretty sure they call these Mustangs in Germany now, but that wasn’t always the case—they used to be called the Ford T5 in Germany, because Ford was too cheap to buy the Mustang name there.
By the way, did you know there are still cigarette vending machines in Germany? These have been incredibly uncommon in the U.S. since, what, the 1990s? Early 2000s? A long time.
There are a ton of well-maintained VW Transporters over there, as you’d expect, since these things are essentially Germany’s Econolines. This was one of the last we had exported to America, under the Eurovan name.
Sadly, these were the only old air-cooled Beetles I saw there.
This was an unusual sight for an American: an MG TF. These cool little mid-engined roadsters were some of the last genuinely MG-ish MGs to be made, from 1995 to 2011 or so, using the platform of MG’s previous mid-engined car, the MGF. They’re really very cool looking in person, and would have made a fine competitor here to the Miata and MR2.
Hey look! It’s a T-Cross, one of the garvillion SUVs and Crossovers Volkswagen makes! It’s one we don’t have in America. I don’t think? Maybe there’s some version of the Taos or whatever that is really this. Who the hell knows anymore?
Here’s your reminder that you can’t get a small new BMW non-crossover, non-SUV wagon in America anymore and I’m still not really okay with that.
I am, however, okay with the Euro-spec hatchback version of the Toyota Corolla, which seems a lot cooler than the ubiquitous Corolla sedans we got.
Hey! A couple of Apes! A cyclops and a biclops one! Who doesn’t love Apes? Nobody, that’s who. Apes are always great.
Man, I got lucky with this one—vintage cars were almost unseen on Munich’s streets, then this stately old gentleman came trundling by: an Opel Kapitan P2, from between 1959 to 1963. This was Opel’s big car, competing against Mercedes-Benzes, and exhibiting a lot of American-influenced styling and charm.
Roadside EV charging was much more common than in similarly-sized American cities. We in America really need to step up with roadside charging if we want more widespread EV adoption, especially in places where people regularly street-park.
I know a lot of people just find these more modern Lancias baffling, but I kind of love the Ypsilon. It’s ornate and strange, small and luxurious, just pleasantly eccentric all around. These things are just fun.
I just want to commend this very good color on this Audi. To hell with silver and black and gray! This yellow is so much better.
That said, I will cut this grayish Audi 80 some slack, because I haven’t seen an Audi 80 this nice in decades. It was a remarkably modern-looking car! Very tidy and sleek, and I love those big, simple blocky taillights.
Am I the only one who really likes these Mercedes-Benz A-Classes? I think they’re very architectural and cool. I love the unbroken line from bumper to windshield top, and I like the funny-shaped C-pillar.
Speaking of little clever one-box cars with an unbroken diagonal from hood-to-A-pillar line, look, a first-gen Renault Twingo! Fantastic little car. This one’s in great shape, too!
Oh, here’s another fun thing: the more recent Euro Fiat 500s had taillights with an inner body-colored section that you could, it seems, use as a picture frame. I think this is someone from that Lupin anime that features a Fiat 500.
Here’s an unexpected treat: a first-gen Honda HR-V, one of the cool boxy ones, not the boring-ass one we have today. These were really appealing-looking small SUVs, with a lot of boxy character and charm.
I’ve never seen an Opel Astra Cabrio in person before. Is this like Europe’s Toyota Solara? Or Chrysler Sebring?
A Porsche 968! That’s not a common sight, either.
I really like their mildly dopey but very eager faces, too. They almost have a canine-eager sort of expression. It’s appealing.
Just want to give a little shout-out to my hardworking bidet that I had while in Munich, where I spent most of my indoor time. I won’t forget you, bidet!
Since I’ve kinda started a kick about one-box vehicles with that unbroken hood-to-A-pillar line, may as well do one more: a VW Sharan, which I think was a pretty cool-looking minivan.
I’m going to end this on something amazing: this Gucci ad from the airport in Amsterdam. Look what car they’ve chosen for this very posh brand’s ad: a Pinto.
Yes, a Ford Motherfucking Pinto Wagon, one of the cars possibly least likely to be associated with high-end Italian fashion, now graces a Gucci ad, proudly.
This feels like a victory for shitbox lovers all over the globe. Celebrate, my friends. Our time has come.